Putin claims Crimea as Russian
Russian President Vladimir Putin stated unequivocally that Crimea belongs to Russia on March 18.
“Crimea will remain an integral part of Russia. And it will never become [West-orientated],” said Putin on March 18, as cited by a Polish daily, Rzeczpospolita.
In his proclamation, Putin also accused Western powers of aggressive tactics and preparing a broad plan of weakening Russia. The president also challenged the constitutionality of Crimea’s accession to Ukraine back in 1954, and said that Russia does plan to further divide Ukraine.
“We don’t want NATO parading in our backyard,” said the president, as cited by Rzeczpospolita. “We don’t want to divide Ukraine. Russia has its interests, which must be taken into consideration and respected.”
Later in his statement Putin repeated Russia’s assessment of the recent developments in Ukraine and Kiev, including the Russian position that Ukraine is a failed state and a victim of an upheaval organized by neo-Nazis, fascists, anti-Semites and Russophobes, all financed from abroad.
According to Amanda Paul from the Brussels’s European Politics Centre (EPC), Putin’s statement on Russia having rights which must be respected should be seen as Russian invitation to negotiations with the West.
“I think that the president of Russia is trying to create a platform for negotiations, but on his terms only,” said Paul, as cited by Rzeczpospolita. “Surely, Ukraine would have to become a neutral state, and the appropriate agreements would have to be signed by NATO, Russia and Ukraine. And of course the acceptance of Russia’s annexation of Crimea is a must.”
British foreign secretary William Hague said on March 18 that such a solution is not an option and warned against the serious threat of provocation in the Eastern Ukraine, which Putin is planning to use as a form of pressure on Kiev and the West.
Stefan Meister from the European Council of Foreign Relations concurred.
“Putin is sending clear signals to the West, stating that he will keep on doing whatever he likes and is not and won’t worry about any sanctions or other consequences imposed by the West,” said Meister, as cited by Rzeczpospolita.
Nevertheless, diplomatic channels between the West and Russia are still open, as the chairman of the European Council Herman van Rompoy is due to meet Putin in Moscow on March 19 and Putin’s June 2014 visit to France has not been cancelled as yet. The UK has taken the hardest line so far and cancelled military cooperation with Russia and held up the arms exports to that country.
Meanwhile, Crimea is not a peaceful place. A clash between Russian and Ukrainian soldiers in Sevastopol on March 18 left one sergeant dead. Additionally, one member of the ‘Russian self-defense forces’ was shot dead and another injured the same day.
Ukrainian Prime Minister Arseni Yatseniuk said that Kiev does not plan to voluntarily withdraw its army from Crimea, which legally is still part of Ukraine.
“The conflict ceases to be political only and is transforming into a military confrontation,” Yatseniuk was quoted by Rzeczpospolita as saying.
Photo courtesy of kremlin.ru